How Faithful is the LORD?

How Faithful is the LORD?

As most of you know, Ron and I came to marriage late-ish in our lives­—last month we celebrated our five-year anniversary. Now I won’t speak for Ron but for me part of the reason I hadn’t married before he and I got together was for the simple reason that I hadn’t met anyone with whom I wanted to spend my life who also felt the same about me. And this entire way of speaking about marriage is a relatively recent one for there was a time, not all that long ago, when women in particular married out of necessity. For much of our history since women had little opportunity to get an education or develop a trade with which they could support themselves, marriage was an economic necessity. Yet today marriage is viewed as being more of a choice. A person, male or female, may be single and desire to meet someone they might marry yet be able to sustain themselves regardless of whether or not they actually do end up getting married.

Now though the Bible presents us with basic principles concerning marriage—namely that marriage is to be a monogamous commitment between a woman and a man—it’s challenging to find many “ideal” marriages in either the Old or New Testaments for those whom the LORD used to bring about his plan of redemption for humanity were, like us, fallen individuals who occasionally failed in their attempts to follow their God and Maker. Think about some of the most well-known couples:

Adam and Eve? Perhaps their union was ideal before the Fall but the reason the Fall occurred in the first place was because they succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and blamed either the serpent or each other for the choices they made to disobey God;

Abraham and Sarah? Perhaps for a time but when they felt that an heir was too long in coming, Abraham—initially with Sarah’s consent—sought to conceive by way of their servant, Hagar;

David and….? Well, which wife shall we choose? Michal, Saul’s daughter? Ahinoam? Abigail? Maacah? Haggith? Abital? Eglah? So far as marriage is concerned, David is hardly the biblical ideal;

What about his son, Solomon? Never mind. We know about his many concubines;

When we come to the New Testament we find Ananias and Sapphira. Yet they conspired together to withhold money they had pledged to give to the LORD.

You see the problem. If we’re seeking to discover a “biblical” view of marriage, we would do better confining ourselves to Scripture’s teaching rather than looking to actual examples—and in fairness I should at least allow some honorable mentions in the marriages of Ruth and Boaz, Esther and Artaxerxes, Elkanah and Hannah, Priscilla and Aquila and, of course, Mary and Joseph! But even with these couples we have precious little information concerning what their marriages were like on a day-to-day basis.

In turning to our morning’s passage, what we must keep before us is the fact that prophets had unique roles to play in God’s plan of redemption. The LORD’s prophets were messengers, servants called by him, to bring his message to his people in order that they might live according to his ways and, when they didn’t, that they might repent and return to him. And as in the past two weeks we saw the LORD use object lessons—a plumb line[1] and a basket of fruit[2]—by way of his prophet Amos to bring his message to his people, so we see here the LORD bringing his message through another prophet, Hosea, using a far more difficult object lesson—marriage to an unfaithful woman—that he might bring his message to his unfaithful people, Israel.

As to Hosea—whose name means “salvation”[3] or “God has saved”[4]  or “to save or deliver”[5]—he, like Amos, was called to be a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II around the middle of the 8th century BC.[6] Judging by the list of Kings mentioned in verse 1, we can determine that his ministry began about the time of Amos or shortly thereafter and that he prophesied for at least 38 years. And as we noted in previous weeks, this was a time in which the Kingdom of Israel was divided into the northern and southern portions. For this reason the book opens with, “The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah,[7] Jotham,[8] Ahaz[9] and Hezekiah,[10] kings of Judah,”—that’s the southern kingdom—“and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash[11] king of Israel”—and that’s the northern kingdom. And notice again that as was true with Amos and other prophets, what’s to follow is presented not as Hosea’s personal opinion or view but as “the word of the LORD.”[12]

What we learn concerning this Word is that the LORD commanded Hosea—who at the time was single—to marry. Now if the only thing we had been told about Hosea is that God had given him specific directions to go and choose a wife, we might feel a certain amount of envy towards Hosea. In the days when I was single, if asked, I probably would have answered that I would have welcomed God’s input and encouragement to go and find a spouse. However, knowing the context, we might think twice for Hosea was to seek out a woman whose life was known and characterized by having many transient sexual relationships. Needless to say, those who are single today are not being told to “Go and do likewise” for, again, Hosea had a unique role—and I imagine burden—to carry out for the LORD. For rather than using a plumb line or a basket of ripe fruit to  serve as object lessons as he had done with Amos, the LORD chose to use Hosea’s life, in its most intimate facets, as an object lesson for Israel.

And so our passage begins with an extraordinarily painful demand from the LORD. As stated in verse 2, “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord’”—and I should note that other versions use the translation of “an adulterous wife”[13] or “a wife of harlotry”[14] or even “a wife of whoredom.”[15] We get the picture. Hosea was being asked by the LORD to represent the LORD by faithfully showing love while not being faithfully loved in return. Likewise the promiscuous woman he is being told to marry represents Israel, his unfaithful people. And, remarkably, Hosea obeyed this formidable command. As stated in verse 3, “So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”

Now the object lesson didn’t end with faithful Hosea’s marrying unfaithful Gomer for even the children she bore would become part of the LORD’s living object lesson. As stated beginning with verse 4 concerning the birth of his firstborn son, “Then the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.’” Jezreel may mean “God scatters.”[16] or “God sows” or “plants.”[17] If the former, we find in this name an ominous foretelling of what would soon happen to the northern Kingdom in 722 BC when they would be overtaken by the Assyrians and scattered abroad. Jeroboam II was part of Jehu’s dynasty[18] which was established at Jezreel.[19] It would be at Jezreel where Israel’s bow or military power would be broken by the Assyrian army,[20] the Valley of Jezreel being a major battleground in ancient times that became the place of judgment. And it was also at Jezreel where the worship of the false god, Baal, was defeated and where Ahab, Israel’s most evil king who led the nation into such idolatry, later died.[21] We can appreciate, then, all of the symbolism and meaning carried by Jezreel’s name.

Next we’re told that Gomer’s second child similarly became part of the LORD’s living object lesson. As stated starting in verse 6, “Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”),—and, again, some of your translations may vary slightly. Some translate this as “Not pitied;”[22] others as “No mercy”[23]— “for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.’” With these words it becomes clear that this particular prophecy was for the northern part of the kingdom, not the southern. At this time Israel was being judged for its lack of fidelity to the LORD and so he would cease to love—or pity or show mercy towards—his people. He would cease to act on their behalf as he had done in the past. However Judah would be spared. And, indeed, when the northern kingdom was overtaken by Assyria, Judah was not—although later it was overtaken by Babylon. So we see how by means of this daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, Israel was being told that the longsuffering love and mercy the LORD had demonstrated for so long would soon be withdrawn due to the nation’s continuous lack of faithfulness to God’s covenant.

Yet a third child was conceived by Gomer. As stated beginning with verse 8, “After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, ‘Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” The Hebrew here is literally, “I am not ‘I Am’ to you,” a reference to the divine name for God.[24] With the birth of this third child, some have observed that unlike Jezreel of whom it is said that Gomer “conceived and bore him a son,” in the case of both Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi the “him,” that is Hosea, is left out—verse 6 simply states “Gomer conceived and gave birth to a daughter” and this verse that “Gomer had another son.” The omission of Hosea may indicate that he wasn’t the father of these latter two children.[25] If this interpretation is correct, then what may have occurred is that Gomer wasn’t promiscuous at the time when Hosea married her—just as the nation of Israel wasn’t originally promiscuous when it first came into being. But later Gomer was as unfaithful in conceiving her second and third children as Israel had been unfaithful time and again when it turned to other gods from the one true LORD who had called her into being and ever sustained her despite her promiscuity. Therefore Hosea had been asked by God both to care for a promiscuous wife who continued in her promiscuous ways and was adulterous and for the children she had conceived.

As to the naming of this third child, “not my people” indicates that there had been a break in the covenant the LORD had made with his people. As Israel had turned away from and disowned the LORD time and time and time again, so the LORD was now turning away from Israel. Although the LORD had called his people to be holy as he was, by their idolatrous behavior in chasing after and serving other gods, they had been anything but.

Yet despite these judgments by the LORD, exemplified in the naming of Gomer’s children, all hope was not lost for Israel for these judgments and pronouncements were not permanent but temporary. Over the number of years it had taken to give birth to these three children, their names had been given in order that God’s people might be confronted, in a vivid manner, with the error of their ways and so turn back to him. Yet ultimately, as suggested in the sermon title, what this account of Hosea teaches us about is the faithfulness of God.

After a period of judgment, that faithfulness is underscored beginning with verse 10 with that all-important conjunction, “Yet”: “10 Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” The punishment of the LORD would be for a limited amount of time. A period of blessing would eventually follow. A period of blessing was yet to come. This language, of course, is a reminder of God’s unconditional promise to the one from whom all Israelites, both northern and southern kingdom, had descended, father Abraham himself. For when Abraham, in obedience to God, demonstrated his obedience to God by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his firstborn son, the son of promise,[26] the LORD stayed Abraham’s hand sparing the boy, and told him: “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”[27] This is what the one and only living God would do. He is a living God who gives his life to all who believe in him. He is a living God so unlike the gods who were not gods at all yet were worshipped by unfaithful Israel.[28]

Verse 11 provides a vision of reunification between the divided northern and southern kingdoms: “The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.” With this pronouncement, we learn that the scattering of Jezreel would be reversed. And it was reversed, at least provisionally, when the northern and southern kingdoms were united under Hezekiah’s reform[29] and after the later Babylonian exile of Judah in 538 BC.[30]

So, how faithful then is the LORD? He is so faithful that even when we are unfaithful, he remains faithful. Earlier I said that Scripture doesn’t provide us with many ideal couples whom we can emulate but what is interesting is that in both the Old and New Testaments, God discloses himself as being Groom to his people, his corporate bride—Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. And so, for example, we read in Isaiah, “For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” Similarly in the New Testament, as the promise made to Abraham continues to be fulfilled by grafting the Gentiles into the vine of the LORD, the people of God, the Church comprised of both Jews and Gentiles is referred to as the bride of Christ. After speaking about how husbands and wives ought to behave towards one another in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul states, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”[31] So, too, the vision given to John in the book of Revelation proclaims about Christ Jesus, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear….”[32] The LORD loves us so intimately that we, corporately, are his wife.

In the life of Hosea we have illustrated and lived out for us that even when we are faithless, God remains faithful. We see that fidelity in his sending his Son, eternal God, the Christ, in the person of Jesus. When Jesus asked his disciples who people said he, the Son of Man, is, it was Peter who answered correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[33] It is through Jesus that all who believe become part of the fulfillment of the promise made to Hosea at the end of our passage and can so become “children of the living God” (verse 10). For he is the leader who rose to unite both Israel and Judah. Upon his birth, Matthew states, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”[34]

And so, too, both Paul[35] and Peter see the LORD’s prophecy through Hosea as being fulfilled in the Church, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. As Peter reminds those to whom he’s writing, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”[36]

We who are living in a time of God having fulfilled these promises can take heart. For all who have placed their trust in the living Christ are children of the living God;

All who have placed their trust in him are part of the sand on the seashore, children who cannot be measured or counted;

All who have placed their trust in him are loved by our long-suffering and compassionate and kind Father in heaven;

All who have placed their trust in him are his people, never to be separated from him again, for he has given us his eternal life in himself;

and he has given his Holy Spirit as his seal;[37]

and he has given us his Holy Spirit to indwell[38] and unite us now and forevermore with our loving and heavenly Father and with each other.

That’s how faithful the LORD is. He is Immanuel, God with us,[39] and of his love there is no end.

Let us pray.

[1] Sermon preached on July 14, 2019, The Sovereign LORD’s Conditions on Amos 7:7–17.

[2] Sermon preached on July 21, 2019 The Sovereign LORD Will Judge the Unjust on Amos 8:1–12.

[3] Zondervan NIV Study Bible.

[4] Reformation ESV Study Bible.

[5] Crossway ESV Study Bible notes that Hebrew root, yasha’, comes from the same verb as “Joshua” and “Jesus.”

[6] Contemporary also with Isaiah and Micah.

[7] Reigned 792-740 BC. Also known as Azariah.

[8] Reigned 750-732/5 BC.

[9] Reigned 735-715 BC.

[10] Reigned 729/715-686 BC. Reformation ESV Study Bible states, “Perhaps the writer thought that the northern kings who reigned between Jeroboam II and the fall of the north in 722 (four were assassins) were not worthy of mention.”

[11] Also known as Joash. As with Amos, this was Jeroboam II who reigned 793-753 BC.

[12] E.g., see also Jeremiah 1:2, 4: The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah,… The word of the Lord came to me, saying,…; Ezekiel 1:3: the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him.; Joel 1:1: The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel.; Jonah 1:1: The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:; Jonah 3:1: Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time:; Micah 1:1: The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.; Zephaniah 1:1: The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:; Haggai 1:1, 3: 1 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:….Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai:; Zechariah 1:1, 7: 1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:…. On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.; Malachi 1:1: A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.

[13] Earlier version of NIV.

[14] RSV.

[15] ESV, KJV.

[16] Zondervan NIV Study Bible.

[17] Reformation ESV Study Bible.

[18] 841–814 BC.

[19] This occurred when Ahab’s son, Joram, was overthrown. See 2 Kings 9:14–29. Jehu’s dynasty ended with Zechariah’s murder in 753 BC (2 Kings 15:8–10).

[20] Under Tiglath-Pileser III conquered the northern territories of Israel.

[21] 1 Kings 21:19: Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”

[22] RSV. It continues with “…for I will no more have pity on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.”

[23] ESV. It continue with, “…for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel to forgive them at all.” The KVJ translates as “Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away.”

[24] Exodus 3:14: God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

[25] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on verse 3. Reformation ESV Study Bible note states this isn’t necessarily the case since the indirect object may be implied.

[26] As the author of Hebrews notes in Hebrews 11:17–19: 17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

[27] Genesis 22:16–17. Jacob, grandson of Abraham whose name was later changed to Israel, prayed to the LORD in Genesis 32:12: “…But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” See also Jeremiah 33:19–22: 19 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 20 “This is what the Lord says: ‘If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, 21 then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. 22 I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’” Hebrews 11:12: And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

[28] Isaiah 40:18–20: 18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.; Isaiah 44:9–11: All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. 10 Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing? 11 People who do that will be put to shame; such craftsmen are only human beings.
Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and shame.; Isaiah 46:5–6: “With whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it.

[29] 2 Chronicles 30:11: Nevertheless, some from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem.

[30] 1 Chronicles 9:3: Those from Judah, from Benjamin, and from Ephraim and Manasseh who lived in Jerusalem were…; Ezra 8:35: Then the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven male lambs and, as a sin offering, twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the Lord.

[31] Ephesians 5:32. Emphasis added.

[32] Revelation 19:7–8.

[33] Matthew 16:16.

[34] Matthew 2:6 quoting Micah 5:2, 4: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times….” He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

[35] Romans 9:22–29:22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” 26 and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” 27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. 28 For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” 29 It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”

[36] 1 Peter 2:9–10.

[37] 2 Corinthians 1:21–22: 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[38] Romans 8:9–11, 15:You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you…. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

[39] Matthew 1:23:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).